• Schubert, Poetry, and Marriage: Paul Appleby on Recital Inspiration

    With a vivid tenor voice, Paul Appleby sees his own career as a journey that "has led me to many formative experiences along the way—some joyful, some difficult, some exhilarating, some painful, and many unexpected." In advance of his April 5 Weill Recital Hall concert with pianist Natalia Katyukova, Appleby introduces the program for the evening, sharing the inspiration—including his own marriage this year—behind its creation.


    As a brief introduction to tonight's recital, I would like to share some of my thinking behind the creation of this program. When going about the task of selecting repertoire for an art song recital, I often categorize the music I am interested in performing into one of three categories: well-known and often-performed songs (the Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Fauré tonight all fall squarely into this group), lesser-known and lesser-performed songs (the Argentine songs), and new songs (a Harold Meltzer world premiere). I usually aim to employ all three of these categories of song in my recitals so that I can explore the greatness of and participate in the performance tradition of canonical works, provide exposure to some pieces that I love but which may be unfamiliar to the typical art song audience, and play a part in the creation of new works and lend a voice to contemporary composers in whose music I believe. This program is weighted toward the well-known category, but I am proud to include all three tonight.

    Even though my love of Schubert lieder is highly unoriginal, I do hope to offer some small insight into these four beautiful songs by exploring a poetic theme that runs through each of them. All express in distinct ways the quintessence of German Romanticism in their expression of longing and nostalgia that constitute the notion of Sehnsucht. "Im Frühling" explicitly enacts a looking back on lost love as a sometimes restrained and equanimous, sometimes roiling reflection on the pain of that failed relationship. The elegiac musical character of "Des Fischers Liebesglück" indicates—to my imagination, anyway—that the charming and moving description of a young lovers' tryst is in fact the narrator's memory of a youthful romance long ago. "Sehnsucht" evokes the crisis of separation and loss, while "Die Taubenpost" expresses a path to some kind of peace mixed with sadness and longing that the voices in all these songs are seeking.

    I premiered Harold Meltzer's song cycle Beautiful Ohio with the New York Festival of Song in 2010 and have wanted to sing more of his music ever since. In addition to the sophisticated and expressive engagement of poetry exhibited in Beautiful Ohio, I found that Harold was able to write genuinely legato vocal lines that both suited the contours of my voice and also served the layers of richly complex rhythmic and harmonic invention that mark his music. Since we've become friends, I've learned that Harold is a poetry buff and a dedicated composer whose artistry is ever deepening. And so I am grateful that he has brought these attributes to his song cycle that receives its world premiere tonight, Under the Lilies.

    I have not sung a great deal of Russian song before this recital, but when you are performing with a formidable Muscovite pianist who also happens to be a brilliant Russian diction coach, it's difficult to put it off it any longer. In preparing these three Tchaikovsky songs, I have availed myself of Natalia Katyukova's linguistic and stylistic expertise. I chose them for the simple reason that I love them and love singing them, but also because I wanted to give the audience the opportunity to hear Natalia let loose her brilliant pianism and beautiful Russian-ness.

    Unlike in opera where a singer has a certain responsibility to sound and look the part, a recitalist is far less limited by vocal fach or physical appearance in his or her choice of repertoire. Since I generally don't have to choose songs based on age-appropriateness, I do occasionally try to choose them with regard to their relevance to my own life at the time. I don't have much original to say about Fauré's masterwork of a song cycle on Paul Verlaine's poetry. But I will share that the reason I programmed La bonne chanson this year is that this is the year I got married. Both Fauré's music and Verlaine's words brim with the vivid euphoria and trepidation of taking the plunge. At any point in life, one can appreciate the immense hope and hesitation that attend the prospect of marriage—I certainly plan to revisit this cycle at a date further removed from my own nuptials—but I felt that my personal experience overlapped with the point of view of these songs right now in a way that I will never be able to recreate in the future.

    The Argentine songs of the final set are intended to serve as a kind of dessert course, but that is not to say that they are not substantive. All the songs in this group employ traditional Argentine musical idioms. The structural and harmonic refinement found in these deceptively simple songs, however, demonstrates the compositional bona fides of all three composers. Alberto Ginastera, who is as well known for his dodecaphonic operas as his canciones, was a significant academic leader as a composer and teacher in Argentina. Carlos López Buchardo, also regarded for his operas, studied composition in Paris under a great author of mélodie in his own right, Albert Roussel. As a composer, Carlos Guastavino did not venture a great deal beyond art song, but his substantial output of elegant and well-crafted canciones earned him the nickname "the Schubert of the Pampas."

    Although I may organize pieces into categories of known, unknown, and new when selecting repertoire for a recital, the significance of these distinctions become much less important once a program takes shape. The one thing that ultimately matters in my choice of repertoire is that they all fall under the category of great song. Luckily, great songs come from many places and manage to speak to us whether they are contemporary and local, or ancient and foreign. I am very happy to share this diverse collection of great songs with you tonight with the hope that they speak to you as powerfully and movingly as they have to me.


    Related: April 5, Paul Appleby | Natalia Katyukova  

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